Life keeps teaching me to let go and to let its current take me.
Again and again, I find myself reflecting on the river of life as an important metaphor. I do better with metaphors than with churning away with an intellectual analysis of life and how to live it. Face it, most of us are trained and conditioned to believe that we must exert control over where life is going to take us. We’re told things like, “You make it happen.” The “it” in that sentence is the preconceived idea of what a satisfying life is going to be. Not much room or credence is given to a bigger wisdom (the river of life) to deliver us to an even better, more integrated existence.
Current events are presenting me with an advanced exam in trust.
The continued rise of authoritarianism around the world frightens me. For me, this is an extreme manifestation of the opposite of trusting the river of life. I see a few select ego-driven leaders who are deciding for the rest of us that they know better. They’ll use whatever means, primarily muddying and repackaging “truth” to fit their agendas. And, face it, much of humanity wants the security of living under an authoritarian system. In a way, it takes the guesswork out of life.
I remember, years ago, hearing M. Scott Peck speak. He’d written The Road Less Traveled, a book that made a big impact on me at the time. He spoke about the dynamic of many prisoners, once released from prison, immediately committing another crime in order to be returned to their previous, extreme authoritarian life. A life of freedom involved too much uncertainty. Peck posited that much of humanity is like this. That really hit me and caused me to question myself on how much I was willing to live with uncertainty.
I didn’t like the answer that came back. But at least it made me aware at a fairly young age that I could be authoritarian in my own way. I could be a dictator when it came to insisting that life bend to my ideas, my attachments.
Italy keeps training me to live with uncertainty.
It’s teaching me to keep letting go of playing God and attempting to manifest my pea-brained ideas of how things are supposed to be. Trusting the river of life can be a tall order for people choosing to live in Italy. Many wannabe ex-pats or extended stay residents gloss over this, in my opinion. This is why I feel compelled to call this out frequently.
Italy actually is a relatively new country, meaning it hasn’t been unified for very long. And that contributes to a country that has many very frustrating inconsistencies and overly-burdened bureaucratic processes.
I’m still taken aback at what can be profound differences in Italy’s twenty different regions. In my experience, too many people coming to build a life in Italy don’t research these regional differences which can have big implications on one’s quality of life here. Healthcare is a biggie. While Italy has a national healthcare system, it’s funded and organized differently across the country. For example, people with a permesso di soggiorno pay more to participate in Umbria (a sliding scale based on your income) than in Veneto (a flat fee of around 400€).
And bureaucratic offices are populated and run very differently from region to region. Some run with greater precision and organization. Others can tax your best intestinal fortitude.
Trusting in the river of life, its forks, and its curves.
We often cling to debris collecting along the banks of this great body of water that we call life. We torture ourselves with incessant internal dialogue and angst about what is the right choice and whether danger lurks around that next bend. I’ve been there, doing the same for much of my life. Thankfully, I’m learning to recognize the physical sensations, the tension that claims and rules my body during those times. Those feelings can be yucky, but I understand that they can be valuable SOS signals telling me that this is the very moment that I need to let go. It can be the opportunity to float into the current and trust it.
The Tao Te Ching’s sage advice
Be still like the mountain, but flow like the river.
— Lao Tzu
I love this “middle way” advice. For me, this urges me to stop running around, anxiously trying to manage an outcome. It tells me to recognize when my interior state is anything but still and that nothing good is born from being enmeshed in neurotic, obsessive thinking.
But, make no mistake, this isn’t telling me to become like a wet noodle. No, I’m encouraged to do what I can and then let go and allow the river of life to take me, while I relax and accept that the river knows where it is going and has my best interests at heart. It means welcoming that all may play out and come together in ways that are at odds with my preconceived ideas, my attachments.
Riding the rapids will always be part of life.
Mentally trickery and self-delusion try to convince us that if we work hard enough we will one day arrive at a heavenly state of bliss. Troubles will no longer attach themselves to us. All will be smooth sailing.
That state of affairs doesn’t exist and won’t be coming. We may float along peacefully for stretches of the river. Then we’ll approach rapids that have us tensing up and returning to old, soul-sucking strategies of self-preservation.
We can’t prevent the rapids from showing up in our lives. When they do, will we cling to a boulder or branch (old behaviors) and get beaten and battered by current circumstances? Or will we stop, ground ourselves in stillness, and allow the river to carry us through choppy waters?
If not now, when?
I love this quote. It comes to me often, especially when I find myself not practicing relaxing into the current of life. My escape strategies are extensive. I’m well habituated to flimsy fix-it strategies that keep me chained to a life of conditioned and ineffective coping strategies.
The waters turn turbulent so often these days. It’s easy to lose hope and to think all is lost with much of humanity’s behaviors. When I feel the angst, the tension, staging a coup, I understand that this is a signal to let go and to swim into the current of the river of life and let it guide me.